Right now, the focus in Israel is on the upcoming third Prime Minister election in 12 months. It is a politically stressful time and this issue needs resolution. There are however other significant matters that must be addressed. One in particular concerns protecting children from predators.
Malka Leifer is the focus of a long drawn out legal battle for extradition from Israel because of her alleged sexual abuse of former students in her home country Australia. The court system in Israel has for several years been moving at a snail’s pace to act on the legal action necessary to send her back for her trial. Several recurring excuses, most notably her allegedly frail mental status, provides the pretext for the delaying pattern which seems to be sanctioned and supported by ministerial level individuals.
Leifer’s case is a headline maker in part because of the extradition request and the fact that she is being shielded in an insular community, but she is far from the only person with a history of sexually abusing children that has found sanctuary in Israel. Not that Israel does not have homegrown childhood sexual abusers. It most certainly does. Israel, though, has unfortunately become the run to place as a refuge for abusers from other countries. Some suggest that as many as 65 people from the world over who have abused children are presently hiding out in Israel to screen themselves from conviction in their home countries or to blend in in a new home and start anew.
I personally would not be shocked if the actual number was three to four times greater. These alleged abusers manage to get to Israel just before being arrested or after posting bail or simply out of fear that they may someday be caught and prosecuted in their home countries. For them Israel is safe. It is a place where they have little fear of being caught and even if they are reported to the authorities, they believe that there is less likelihood of prosecution in Israel. One reason commonly offered is that child sexual abuse in Israel is not a trending concern. A more significant reason seems to be the lack of awareness of the reality of childhood sexual abuse, its frequency and its painful consequences along with the community’s intense desire to not accept the reality that such abhorrent behaviors exist and confounded by a fear of speaking out and reporting abuse when it is clearly evident.
One in four girls and one in five boys under the age of 18 are sexually molested. The effects of childhood sexual abuse have been commonly referred to as soul murder. For many the effects of these childhood violations to the physical and sexual well-being which include major psychological and medical ailments can last a lifetime. This is an overwhelming statistic. Still, there is the compulsive desire by many to sweep this reality away and even threaten those who attempt to report their attackers to the authorities.
What is most frightening to me as someone who treats survivors of childhood sexual abuse is the openness that I have seen among foreign abusers who have come to Israel. There is no attempt on their part to hide or even desist in their perverse behaviors. I recently observed one individual, a former school administrator from the US, who is currently being accused by several past students of sexually abusing them, handing out candy to youngsters in the synagogue he regularly attends. When I asked someone about the freedom he has been allowed to interact with children, even grooming them to be responsive to him, I was told that everyone knows about his history, so they keep an eye on him. I in my shocked reaction wondered aloud just how it is possible to constantly observe him and protect the children. At the very least he should be banned from interacting with children. My concerns fell on deaf ears.
In another situation I observed a former American rabbi accused of abusing young boys in the States. He had run off to Israel and was now strolling the streets of Jerusalem with a cadre of youngsters in tow. Here too I questioned just how immobilized or plainly indifferent parents, family and society must be to allow him the freedom to engage with potential victims.
In ancient Israel Arei Miklat, cities of refuge, were designated for individuals who inadvertently murdered to escape to. For these accidental felons the refuge served to protect them from vengeful family members. Israel as a country has become a refuge place for childhood sexual predators. The paradox is striking. These sexual abusers do not act in an inadvertent manner at all. They plan the steps to victimize and they groom their targets along with family and even the larger community. We know how they operate and we know the harm they cause. We must publicly confront this heinous problem and overcome the fear of negative reactions. We must not allow predators refuge. We must do better in keeping them from committing further acts of harm and we must send them to the justice they deserve.